Last weekend the racing scene was action-packed. Scott Dixon won his fifth Indy 500 pole, a bad call by the race director almost altered the NASCAR All-Star results, and Ferrari’s misfortune led to Max Verstappen’s fourth Formula 1 season win while Mercedes made a quantum leap in performance. Memorial Day weekend promises more great action for all three series.
For the first time, the Indy 500 pole qualifying format featured 12 drivers, honed down to six pole contenders. Each of those final six drivers had to endure three white-knuckle qualifying runs of four laps. When the final checkered flag fell, Scott Dixon turned the fastest pole time and second-fastest qualifying performance in the history of the 500, a 234.046 mph average for 10 miles. Arie Luyendyk’s second-day qualifying run of 236.986 in 1996 wasn’t eligible for the pole under the old qualifying format. “Rookies” Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson both made the top 12, qualifying ninth and 12th respectively. The pre-race show airs on NBC starting 8 a.m. Sunday with race coverage at 9:30.
After early crashes took out many of NASCAR’s All-Star contenders, the race came down to what looked like a sure win for Ryan Blaney until somebody threw a monkey wrench into the works. The All-Star’s race director ordered a caution flag for a back-straight single car in the wall as Blaney was mere yards from the finish line. It was a bad call that brought flashbacks of last year’s Formula 1 finale at Abu Dhabi. The rest of the field was already clear of the accident, so there was no need to throw the caution instead of the checker. Blaney, thinking he had won the race, undid his window net, only to find out he had to endure another restart. He finally got the net somewhat secured and held off Denny Hamlin for the million-dollar win. In the aftermath, NASCAR Senior Vice President Scott Miller issued a rare apology for the incident, promising to do better in the future. Sunday it’s back to points racing in NASCAR Cup’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. In the last five years Martin Truex Jr. has three Charlotte wins, Kyle Larson two including last year’s 600, and Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Austin Dillon one apiece. FS1 will broadcast qualifying at 7:30 a.m. Sunday with the race at 3 p.m. on FOX.
Charles Leclerc started his Ferrari from the pole and was opening a gap on the field in last Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix when he suddenly lost power and retired. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen capitalized on the Ferrari’s misfortune and led a 1-2 finish for the team. But the bigger story of the race may be the resurgence of Mercedes. George Russell came home third for a podium and Lewis Hamilton finished a remarkable fifth after a first-lap incident saw him pit for tires and come back out dead last. His charge through the field indicated that Mercedes has put their handling issues behind them and may be ready to be the spoiler in the Red Bull/Ferrari championship chase. Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix may well be decided during qualifying, as the twisty street circuit is notoriously difficult to pass on. Monaco is Leclerc’s home track, and he has extra motivation from last Sunday’s loss and last year’s Monaco crash. Verstappen is the defending winner and Hamilton has three wins there, most recently in 2019. Monaco may be Mercedes’ best chance so far this season to contest for a win. Qualifying airs Saturday on ESPN2 at 6:55 a.m. with the race at 5:55 a.m. Sunday on ESPN.